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Sorry no longer take comments. Post's 'labels' are unreliable for linking or searching. Use the INDEX OF POSTS instead. A fairly accurate, but incomplete INDEX of Posts & good overview of this blog READ SOME REASONS TO REJECT ORTHODOX JUDAISM my April 2014 post or click link above. Highlighted words lead to other posts almost all in my blog. Born into an Orthodox Jewish family (1950's) and went to Orthodox Yeshiva from kindergarten thru High School plus some Beis Medrash.Became an agnostic in my 20's and an atheist later on. My blog will discuss the arguments for god and Orthodox Judaism and will provide counter arguments. I no longer take comments. My blog uses academic sources, the Torah, Talmud and commentators to justify my assertions. The posts get updated. INDEX OF POSTS SEE MAY 2017 or click link above.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Rabbi Kelemen Permission To Receive - Unusually Ethical Jews

From RK’s Permission to Receive book 1996. On page 21 RK explains that the book basically assumes a good  G-d exists. The intent of the book is to argue the Torah is from G-d.

The Ethical Argument is the book’s fourth and final argument for the Torah being from G-d,  assuming a good G-d already exists.

I think RK is intending to argue something like this.

The Jewish people are unusually ethical and the reason is because the Torah is divine.  

RK measures of ethics includes:

Rates of marriage, divorce, alcoholism, drug addiction and crime. The importance of education,  involvement in charities,  social activism, prejudice, family and community involvement, altruism and a few others. 

RK provides citations from numerous studies purporting to support the claim that Jews are unusually ethical. 


Measuring ethical behavior of a group of people is very difficult. What ethical system should be chosen ?  What ethics measures should be chosen ?

Consider  environmental ethics and concern for other living things. The Native American Indians probably rank very high on such a  measure. I do not think RK has an environmental ethics measure. This brings up another problem.

How do you rank the importance of the ethics measures ? Maybe environmental ethics is so important as to dwarf any one or several of RK’s  measures. 

Maybe a culture built on shared resources and not private property ownership is more ethical. I think some Native American tribes had shared tools, land etc: Does that mean they were more ethical ?  

Other ethics measures could include:  gender equality and disparate treatment, religious and other forms of tolerance,  child education and rearing practices, child abuse,  patriotism,  government program abuse, tax evasion and avoidance, white collar crime, business ethics, live and let live attitudes,  environmental ethics, and numerous others. How well would the Ultra Orthodox Jews do on those other measures ? What about the Orthodox Jews ? What about the various denominations of Orthodoxy such as Orthodox Sephardic, the many Chassidic denominations, Charedi denominations etc ? I do not know, but it shows the great difficultly with measuring and comparing group ethics. {Side note:  RK argues the Orthodox Jews did not beseech government handouts. Today that is no longer true. The Orthodox Yeshivas and community are feeding at the government trough both in the USA and Israel. I guess the Orthodox eat pork too despite the Torah’s command not to.}

I suspect the following ‘groups’ would do well on many of RK’s measures of ethics, although I have not researched it.

1) Church of Latter Day Saints;  Reformed Church of Latter Day Saints 
2)  Amish
3) Certain Muslim groups or denominations
4) The Chinese
5) The Chinese (and perhaps other) immigrants to the USA or to other countries.
6) Certain other Christian denominations

Lets assume the Jews are unusually ethical. 

Are there natural reasons for the unusual ethical behavior of Jews ?

R1) In some ancient near east cultures it was understood bad behavior could bring punishment from a supernatural being . Such consequences could motivate good behavior for many people. The  Jews could have evolved a culture and a religious system to encourage good ethics for individuals and the tribe as a whole. Thus, the Torah and oral law  may not be divine, yet still produce very good results. 

R2) The Torah has the Jews as the chosen people. As a matter of pride the Jews may want to excel on some ethics measures. For example,  the thought process may be we are the chosen people and it is beneath our dignity to be rolling in the mud drunk like those other people. 

R3) From the various invasions, exiles and migrations the Jews from the school of hard knocks and by use of reason learned not to offend their hosts.  Consider the Jews migrating  into a new country and getting drunk, causing a ruckus, and engaging in other sorts of abuses. They would wear out their welcome in a heart beat. Yet if they are well behaved and contribute to society they stood a better chance of surviving and even thriving in their new setting.  In short, if the Jewish tribe wanted to survive they had to evolve a system that would succeed in a hostile environment. Moreover, charity, especially within group charity could help the Jewish tribe survive in the diaspora. 

R4) Some of RK’s ethical measures reflect the fact that being Jewish requires a community of Jews. For example, if you want to eat kosher meat you need to be near kosher butchers etc:

R5) Some of RK’s ethical measures probably reflect contributions from social-economic factors; generational changes from earlier Jewish immigrants to later generations. especially as those later generations achieve more wealth and influence.

R6) Some of RK’s ethical measures may reflect limited employment opportunities and antisemitism.  For example, the Jews may not be permitted to own land so they could not become farmers. Or antisemitism may have prevented them from being employed in factories etc:   Thus the Jews in order to survive needed to pursue occupations that could be open to them such as physicians or other occupations requiring advanced or specialized education or skills.  In addition, the more wealth they could accumulate perhaps they would be safer in their host country or if they had to escape they could afford to.

R7) Some of RK's ethical  measurements may reflect the Jewish experience in the USA. Many Jews came to the USA poor and uneducated. This could motivate a good work ethic and the need to get ahead. Jews would also be empathetic with minorities and oppressed peoples. 

R8) Some of RK’s ethical measurements probably reflect motivations for tribal survival whether in Israel or not. For example, close family units and strong community ties would help with tribal survival. Another example could be high marriage rates and low divorce rates which both help tribal survival.

Several more comments.

A) Did not the Prophets often chastize the Israelites for not being ethical ?  Would that contradict RK’s premise the Jews are unusually ethical ?  

B) The Torah has some laws and commands  that could be considered unethical. See for example Kuzari argument Part 19 plus some Critique Rabbi Kelemen's Book of Permission To Receive. To the extent they are followed the Jews would be acting unethically. However, using Divine Command theory the Jews could claim they are following G-d’s laws and commands and if you have a problem take it up with him. Divine Command theory can be used by other people who claim they too are following their deity’s wishes. 

C) RK seems somewhat  inconsistent. When non orthodox Jews are ‘ethical’ RK suggests it is because  their ethics arise from the religious observance of prior generations - cut flower effect. Yet, when the non-orthodox Jews do not pass muster RK argues it is because they are no longer orthodox. This sort of makes part of his  argument non falsifiable.


1) It is plausible religion can motivate ethical behavior See Proof of God from Morality Part Two.  If the Jews are unusually ethical, the Torah and oral tradition  could  account for some of it. However, that is not a demonstration the Torah system is divine.  I have also provided some natural reasons that could account for the good ethics of Jews. 

2)  RK cherry picks studies and ethic’s measures to make Orthodoxy look rosy, but basically ignores information that would compromise his argument. Let the buyer beware.   

3) RK’s argument involves connecting Jewish behavior with the plausibility of the divine origins of the Torah.  If the Jews were  unethical would RK argue the Torah is not divine ? Why can’t the Torah be of divine origin even if the Jews are unethical ? Similarly, even if the Jews are unusually ethical it does not follow the Torah is of divine origin.

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